Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: Anthony McFarland (And What Frank Gore Would Do)

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines a play from Anthony McFarland’s work against the Jacksonville Jaguars and shows why Frank Gore is the perfect teaching tape for what’s lacking in the Steeler rookie’s game.

Anthony McFarland is a dynamic athlete for the Pittsburgh Steelers who is learning how to play running back at a professional level. He’s the perfect example of a quick, fast, and agile mover that captures the imagination of fans, scouts, and coaches who value raw tools while hoping they will become refined skills.

During Sunday’s broadcast of the Steelers-Jaguars game in Week 11, I heard Charles Davis comment that a McFarland loss was the result of a lack of available rushing lanes. Davis is one of the best NFL analysts doing televised broadcasts, but his job prevents him from having the time between plays to study the replay multiple times. He’s going to miss details that he’d otherwise see if he wasn’t giving real-time analysis.

As someone who has studied a lot of running back play for the past 16 years and wrote an extensive scouting report on McFarland this spring, I wondered if what Davis observed was true. After a few looks at the play, the Steelers rookie left yards on the field.

It was clear this was the case if you study Frank Gore, the standard for teaching tape across the NFL. I’ve seen Gore manipulate defenders on plays like this numerous times. The video below shows the difference between the way McFarland approached the play and how Gore sets up similar plays.

Video and Graphics Editing by Justin Johnson

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McFarland has superior raw tools to Gore, but he must learn to refine them. It will require seeing the field like Gore. He’ll need to understand the blocking schemes and the position of his opponents well enough to recognize opportunities to manipulate them.

He’ll also have to become confident enough with how his opponents will react in these situations to trust how things will develop if he focuses on manipulating these unopened creases rather than simply running away from darkness to look for daylight. This is a difficult thing to learn because most consider it instinctive.

It’s actually practiced behavior built on layers of refined skills. The product of these combined skills looks like instinctive play but takes dedicated work to make them look this way.

Frank Gore has the mindset, work ethic, (and ironically) the durability to become a master craftsman at the position to become the active manual for advanced running back play in the NFL.

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